At Peak of Its Wealth and Influence, Arizona’s Desert Civilization Confronts A Reckoning Over Water

Keith Schneider, Circle of Blue on March 14, 2022

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – Tales of personal anguish are the typical start of serious articles about Arizona’s conspicuous confrontation with scarce water. The distraught Chino Valley homeowner buying water out of a truck because her well dried up. The Pinal farmer losing income because his water-starved fields lie fallow. The Phoenix golf course operator, burdened by high irrigation costs and declining revenue, selling out to a home developer.

This report, the first of three on how Arizona copes with a drought more serious than any in 1,200 years doesn’t start there. Instead it begins with this: A brief on how adept engineering for dams and aqueducts, government subsidy, technological development for pumps and water recycling, surpassing marketing, and an advantageous assemblage of natural resources – sun, warmth, blue sky, and open spaces – produced one of the greatest desert civilizations in human history.

Arizona’s population, 7.1 million, has increased by an average of 1 million people a decade since the 1950s, when the five C’s ruled the state: cattle, copper, cotton, citrus, and climate. Even as the first four have declined in relative importance, the appeal of warmth and sunshine has not diminished. In fact, it’s boom times. Phoenix, with 1.7 million residents, is now the nation’s fifth largest city. To spend time in Arizona is to understand why it’s been one of the fastest growing states for four generations. The state embodies a century of pure American capitalist exuberance.

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